The Peter Principle
by Teodoro C. Benigno

Philippine Star 18 March 2002

Peter Wallace writes to convey his latest impressions and emotions. And just like this columnist, Peter writes from the edge of the cliff where he sees the chasm below. He begins by saying that he cannot understand "how a clearly provable tax evader and Estrada crony can be in the good graces of this government. How a multi-coup leader can be a senator � not in jail. Or dead. How a person convicted of statutory rape can run for public office, despite conviction by a court of law." Peter, my dear Peter, sometime ago you still had faith the Philippines could escape the whirlwind, that the Filipino had it in him to stay the course and perhaps eventually succeed.

For those who came late, Mr. Wallace is spokesman for the MNCs, the multinational corporations in the Philippines, and head of the Economic Intelligence Unit. So what he says carries a lot of weight.

Now he weighs in with some gut questions: "As an aside, you will ask: will Estrada ever be convicted? Of course not. This is one of the fundamental flaws in this society� Imelda prances around town, 17 years later. Unscathed by any successful prosecution of her clear criminality. Estrada will escape, too. I can name you a dozen, a hundred people who should be in jail, but aren�t."

Ah, Peter, you are coming around. Now you are beginning to understand how flawed our culture is, a culture, as you say, "of compromise and avoiding confrontation, of protecting friends and family but surely these should subsume to the basic tenets of society." And he follows up: "Is this perhaps one of the reasons the Philippines never seems to get going? Is it behind what James Fallows called a �damaged culture.� For which he was much maligned."

But Peter Wallace hasn�t given up altogether. "It�s too late for this generation," he says, "but can�t we start with the next? It�s the next that must be moulded into a socially responsible society. I�d put the responsibility on the church (the school system has too many problems already just getting the three R�s across). It is, after all, part of Christianity�s teaching."

Peter will still have to march in stride with historian O.D. Corpuz who predicts civil war, revolution or coup; with Ferdinand Marcos who two decades ago said Philippine society is sitting "atop a social volcano" which can erupt anytime; with Ninoy Aquino who before he died said in Boston in 1946 he had to come back so he could still "instill hope in our people" for in five years time "along the road," there could be full-fledged revolution.

In retrospect, it�s probably a good thing Joseph Estrada came along.

He yanked the lid off our Box of Pandora. He exposed the Philippines for what it really was. Mainly, a society of thieves, liars, hypocrites, smugglers and killers, all pretending to be Christians and democrats. The veneer of democracy was stripped off. What lay underneath was a tribal society, that never saw the light of national unity. Stick around, Peter, the worst is yet to come.

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